The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has stepped up efforts to end the parliamentary logjam with its ally, TDP, on issues relating to Andhra Pradesh before the budget session resumes on Monday. However, TDP president and AP Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has directed his MPs to continue the protests within and outside Parliament during the session until the Centre issues a statement.
A former Cabinet minister with the NDA took the initiative to arrange for talks between representatives of the two sides on Thursday to thrash out the thorny issues troubling BJP and TDP ties. BJP president Amit Shah and TDP MP K. Rammohan Naidu and AP Planning Board vice-chairman and AP CM’s key aide Kutumba Rao took part in the talks that spanned over three hours.
Shah, who is keen on rescuing the alliance with TDP, which now has 20 Lok Sabha MPs, told the TDP side that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was ready to make an announcement on a package for AP in Parliament next week, if TDP agrees to it. Shah suggested the TDP representatives that they should meet the FM to find out the details.
According to sources in TDP, the BJP national president told the MPs that the Centre was almost ready to sanction a separate railway zone for AP, headquartered at Visakhapatnam or Vijayawada, and would grant an economic package that would make up for the financial losses AP suffered due to the bifurcation.
Alongside, FM Jaitley, too, has indicated to the TDP MPs that he was ready to discuss an economic package for AP and invited them to give their suggestions before the budget session resumes or at the earliest after the session begins. Jaitley wanted to make a statement in Parliament after obtaining the consent of TDP to the package. Shah, too, conveyed the same to the TDP representatives.
Shah’s offer was discussed at the TDP parliamentary party meeting chaired by Chandrababu Naidu at his residence in Amaravati on Friday. However, Naidu is apparently unhappy with the Centre’s offer and told his MPs to resume their agitation in Parliament like they did during the first leg of the budget session from 1-9 February.
Naidu’s contention was that the people of AP would settle for nothing short of special status as long as the status was available for other states in the country. The CM also expressed his annoyance with FM Jaitley’s suggestion that TDP should clear a package to be announced by the Centre. The CM told his MPs that he would respond to the package only after it was announced.
For the first time, Naidu asked the views of individual MPs on severing ties with the BJP on issues pertaining to AP. Sources said that a majority of MPs spoke in favour of fighting with the Centre, but Naidu advised them to follow caution as the party wanted to adopt a staggered stir that may span over five to six months.
The continued hard posturing by the TDP president shows that his MPs would revive their protests in both Houses of Parliament from Monday. TDP Rajya Sabha MP T.G. Venkatesh told The Sunday Guardian on Friday that the Chief Minister was unrelenting on the interests of AP and the MPs would continue to stall House proceedings until their demands were met.
Three other TDP Lok Sabha MPs—Kesineni Nani, Konakalla Narayana and J.C. Diwakar Reddy—told the media after the parliamentary party meeting that they had lost confidence that the Centre would solve the problems of AP and that they would be forced to disrupt proceedings. Narayana said that the MPs would call off their stir only after Jaitley made a satisfactory statement.
The current round of negotiations between BJP and TDP are at the initiative of a former Cabinet minister with the NDA who told both sides to bury their differences and come to an understanding to save the alliance in 2019 elections too.
According to sources close to Kutumba Rao, who usually takes his brief from the AP CM, the state urgently seeks resolution to 19 pending issues which require either Central funds or permissions. Shah is understood to have told the TDP delegates that the Centre was committed to sort out each and every issue raised by them before the end of the budget session by 6 April.
Senior BJP leaders from AP told this newspaper that the party was not ready to lose the support of TDP in the crucial budget session and was ready to be accommodative towards its demands. “We will press for solving any economic or administrative demands like separate railway zone, but not special status which is a closed issue,” said AP BJP MLC Somu Veerraju.